Ukrainian autocephaly process results in Constantinople reviving ancient ecclesiological ethos: participation of the entire people of God (clergy and laity) in Church’s decision-making process

11 April 2019, 20:13 | Monitoring | 0 |   | Code for Blog |  | 

Petros Vassiliadis



A critical theological analysis of the Ukrainian situation and some thoughts to retain Orthodox unity. A SHORT VERSION OF CEMES’ FINAL REPORT

The CEMES foundation launched in mid-August 2018 a scholarly project, which examined the current Ukrainian crisis from a theological, historical and canonical perspective, always in relation to the triptych: Primacy-Conciliarity-Autocephaly. It was undertaken by its academic members, as well as the teaching staff of the inter-Orthodox post-graduate program from all Orthodox jurisdictions on “Orthodox Ecumenical Theology”, run by CEMES at the English-speaking International Hellenic University (IHU). The project’s final report provides at the end what measures at this specific situation seem feasible and necessary for the Orthodox unity.

The main document on which this painful division in a large country, populated mainly by Orthodox, could be resolved was the 1686 Patriarchal act, by which only the right to ordain the Metropolitan of Kyiv was granted to the Patriarch of Moscow, because of the difficult situation at that time, on the clearly expressed condition to follow the decision of the Kyivan clergy-laity assembly, and most importantly to commemorate the EP, something that evidently proves that the Kyivan Metropolia still remained under his omophorion. Instead, the EP argument went on, the MP uncanonically annexed to its jurisdiction the Kyivan Metropolia and the entire Ukrainian Lands.

This catalytic evidence was officially produced by the EP at the end of September (OMIΛOYN TA KEIMENA ( deltiotypou/…/final%20oukraniko-1.pdf), with no official counter arguments at the beginning from the MP, which followed a rather communication strategy insisting on a conspiracy theory, namely, that the entire process was politically motivated and that evil forces wanted to destroy the Russian Church etc. Only anonymous comments and semi-official responses were published, the most serious being (mid-October) the one by prof. Mickail Zheltov (…/historical-canonica…). Being a renowned liturgist, prof. Zheltov skipped the condition of the commemoration by the Kyivan Metropolitan of the Ecumenical Patriarch, a clear evidence to which jurisdiction the Kyivan Metropolitan belonged, interpreting this condition as “no more than simple good wishes”.

Quite late (end of October) there was an attempt by the MP to officially respond ( to the arguments produced by the EP. Both the official MP response to the EP arguments and Prof. Zheltov’s long article rightly insisted on the unity of the Kyivan and Moschovite Rus. However, this is a past history by no means relevant to the present situation, where the vast majority of the Ukrainians consider now the Russians as aggressors of their country and the head of the MP as persona non grata.

One cannot blame for the present regretful situation either the EP, which is canonically obliged to defend its ecumenically set rights, or even the MP, which is also trying to defend its canonical jurisdiction using whatever arguments it considers appropriate. The blame – with regard both to the Orthodox unity and, more importantly, to the Rus Kyiv-Moscow unity, on which the MP puts the emphasis – is exclusively to be placed on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP), especially her leadership, who lost a unique opportunity to secure to a large extent both their legitimate control of the autocephalous-in-the-process Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and – what is even more important – they would determine and retain the actual unity between Ukrainian and Russian Orthodoxy.

The only blame on the MP was its decision to use the Divine Eucharist, the ultimate Orthodox characteristic of self-identity, for an administrative dispute creating, as it was noted, numerous problems in our effort to secure the Orthodox unity, especially in the Orthodox diaspora. But such spontaneous actions are numerous in our long history – in both the first and the second millennium – and in the course of time they were solved. The MP has used this measure also in the Estonian territorial dispute; but it lifted it after few years. This we also pray to happen again.

In all similar cases in the past and the previous century canonical irregularities, resulting in schismatic situations – most notably in the Greek autocephalous Church – the Ecumenical Patriarchate intervened, following the Canons of the Ecumenical Councils, and healed the schisms bringing back millions of Orthodox to the canonical Orthodox Church by granting them autocephaly. This is what happened to all newer Patriarchates and Autocephalous Orthodox Churches.

Several other arguments have been unofficially presented against the decision of the EP to proceed to the Ukrainian autocephaly: “Why now?” But the real objection should be “why so late?” For three centuries the MP exercised authority over Ukraine, and none questioned this status, even if it was uncanonical. Of course, canonically – and legally in general – speaking, an irregularity does not change the canonical tradition.

Another argument was that the schismatics and anathematized – measures that were imposed in a legalistic and semi-nationalistic way, and not in the philanthropic spirit of the oikonomia that almost all canonical decisions request– did not repent. The inability of the UOC MP to solve the problem, and thus retain Orthodox unity in the country, has inevitably forced the EP to act as it did.

Others have argued that the Holy Canons, as canonical rules set in an old time, cannot solve current more complex situations with political and geopolitical consequences. Those who follow this MP logic may not go as far as abandoning the ages-old canonical tradition that was established by the canons of the Ecumenical Councils, but in the back of their mind they propose a model of church unity without a Protos, without a primacy of honour and service (and with certain prerogatives). In practice, all Orthodox with no exception – and with no theological counter argument – follow a primacy at all levels of Church life (parish, diocese, autocephalous church), except at the universal one. The committee did not insist that we must slavishly follow the holy canons with no contextualization of their content. They argued that we do need to keep our canonical tradition faithfully, but always dynamically interpreted. Otherwise there is a danger to fall into a protestant-style confederation of independent Orthodox Churches, a situation almost inevitable with the alternative proposal. If that happens, we can no longer speak of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” we confess in our Church, but of something alien to Christian and authentic Orthodox ecclesiology. Unfortunately, for many centuries after the Great Schism the Orthodox have unconsciously developed a “negative” identity: we are not what our tradition has left us as legacy, but what the others, mainly the Catholics, are not. In other words, without a primacy, a visible expression of the Church’s unity, accompanied of course by synodality.

What is, finally, the most promising outcome of this crisis – the Committee’s report continue, now that the process toward the Ukrainian autocephaly reached its final stage – is that the EP is reviving an ancient ecclesiological ethos; the participation of the entire people of God (clergy and laity) in our Church’s decision-making process, which in our present day autocephalous Orthodox Churches is either forgotten or at best marginalized. In other words, the authentic version of synodality was brought back, hopefully to be followed not only at the top, but at all levels of Church life: parish, diocese, regional/national, universal. It is hoped, this will alert other Orthodox Churches, like the Greek and the Russian, among others, to allow themselves to break the chains of enslavement to their respective secular states. Recently a further issue arose, that of the validity of the ordination of those in an un-canonical status (schismatics, anathematized etc). The Committee, concluded that the readmittance to the canonical status of the Orthodox Church clerics, including the hierarchs, are not re-ordained, and their believers are not re-baptized.

Regarding the future of Orthodoxy in Ukraine, the Committee considers that all efforts should now focus on the gradual restoration of the unity of the Orthodox in Ukraine. Taking in to account that the MP seems to have settled with a double-jurisdiction in Ukraine, (i.e. the inevitable existence of UOC-MP and OCU), the only feasible and realistic proposal as an interim solution, though not the only one, would be to follow the model of the famous “Patriarchal Act of 1928”, still functioning in the Church of Greece. Although a double-jurisdiction is quite un-canonical and has been scientifically criticized in the case of Estonia, and in the Orthodox Diaspora is in the process of being overcome, it is the only possible solution to reduce the accumulated enmity and continuous confrontation for more than 20 years. The co-decision for the creation of a Permanent Holy Synod as a supreme executive ecclesiastical body, consisting of 6 hierarchs from UOC-MP and 6 from the OCU, according to the model that has been in operation for about a century in the Church of Greece.

Система Orphus

Last comments

  • ustavschyk | 16 July 2019, 22:45

    Google Translate strikes again.

  • Ігор Затятий | 16 July 2019, 10:31

    «Обіцянка - цяцянка, а дурневі радість»

  • barni | 16 July 2019, 09:48

    " Коли ми навчимося бути разом, єдиною (Українською, а не католицькою авт.ком.) Церквою, перемагати те, що нас роз’єднує" - ТОДІ МИ СТАНЕМОГ ДІЙСНО НЕЗАЛЕЖНОЮ УКРАЇНОЮ. Браво Владико!!!

  • Zenia | 16 July 2019, 02:10

    Дай Боже! Греків довго обманювали проросійською пропагандою, й вони останні роки погано ставились до українців через брехню кремля... Може, тепер протверезіють?

  • barni | 15 July 2019, 23:42

    От тут то (я готовий спокійно вислухати всіх) НАМ ПОТРІБНО ПОВЧИТИСЯ в рф? ХТО, ДЕ І ЯК ЗАХИЩАЄ УКРАЇНУ ЇЇ ПЦУ !? Може шевчук зі своїми ієрархами та з папою в римі? Чи МЗС, зі своєю незліченною